If you’re looking for cliffhangers and jaw-dropping twists of plot, this may not be the book for you. If, however, you enjoy discovering the whydunnit rather than the who, and appreciate being guided on that journey by a skilled and talented writer, then you won’t be disappointed by Denise Mina’s The End of the Wasp Season.
The novel opens with the brutal murder of a young woman in an old-money suburb of Glasgow. So brutal that DI Alex Morrow’s usually hardened team of cops can’t even bear to look at what’s left of the woman’s face. Mercifully, the worst of the gore is largely absent from Mina’s description. In the best tradition of horror movies/novels she leaves it to the reader’s imagination to picture the damage that’s been wrought.
We soon discover who has committed the crime and follow one perpetrator’s point of view, gradually uncovering the reason the woman was killed.
The story features both ends of the social spectrum – from a spoilt and dysfunctional millionaire’s family living in luxury in the south of England, to the single mother of four struggling to survive on a cleaner’s pay, living on a crime ridden scheme in Glasgow. The portrayal of both families is convincing and at times sympathetic. Frustratingly, the brief glimpse we get into DI Alex Morrow’s family life raises more questions than answers. (Thankfully the third DI Morrow book, Gods and Beasts, is out later this year, so hopefully we’ll get a lot more Alex then.)
A minor criticism would be the way Morrow manages to solve the whodunnit. It felt a little contrived. But that really isn’t what this story is about. Seen as an exploration of the psychology of crime, it really does tick all the boxes.
The writing is a delight throughout, every metaphor and simile carefully measured and judiciously placed. There’s no linguistic showing off just for the sake of it. The language does exactly what it should, painting a vivid picture without getting in the way of the story.
If you’re yet to discover the work of Denise Mina, you’re in for a treat. If you already have, add this to your ‘must read’ list.
Now out in paperback. (Orion, £7.99)
The cover of The End of the Wasp Season is beautiful. It’s still got the obligatory crooked/shattered font face that lets you know it’s a crime novel, but the way photography and colour have been used boasts of something a little more literary. Which is exactly what’s inside the tin.
All the novels in Mina’s back catalogue have been given a similar makeover. I don’t know who the designer is, but they deserve a big slap on the back. Just to prove my point, here’s the full list in order of publication:
My edition of the novel (the hefty too-heavy-to-take-on-the-tube trade paperback) features a Specsavers ad on final page. I know the company sponsors all things bookish on TV, including the glittering Crime Thriller awards, but come on – a full-page ad in a novel? That’s a bit cheap.
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Eva, I think your modesty regarding your reviewing skills is misplaced, you did a great job here and very importantly, no spoilers! (Amazing how many reviewers can’t resist – it makes their job easier and ruins the book for everyone else.) I have been meaning to read this for ages because of the gorgeous cover and the brilliant title – which will make it into my forthcoming post on that subject. Anyway, good to know that a great read is also in store. Look forward to your future reviews.
You’re too kind. Not sure when I’ll get round to another one – I’ve decided to specialise in crime fiction with women protagonists and, like you, only want to blog if I actually like something. Negative reviewing would be too demoralising! Re your next post – about great titles, gorgeous covers, or both?
Titles – good, bad and ugly. Sounds like we agree life is too short to spend trashing other people’s work, best to spend our energy promoting what IS worth reading!